Report on Western Conference for the Catechumenate
Flora and I arrived at the Convent at around 7:00 pm on the Friday evening, as was indicated to do on the materials we had been given. There was no one there to greet us: instead, there were room keys lying on the desk, with a list of our names and room numbers. Fortunately, Flora was able to decipher the meaning behind all of this, and we were able to figure out which keys were ours. We went to the conference area (which was clearly marked, fortunately) to find out how to get to our rooms.
We then went upstairs to our rooms, unpacked, changed, and then came down for the first session, which was on What do we see when we see Conversion happening.
We attended all of the sessions, and found them very informative.
There are four periods of conversion for the unbaptized person, with three steps: the four periods are Inquiry (the participant is called an Inquirer), Catechumenate (the participant is called a Catechumen), Purification and Enlightenment (the participant is called Elect), and Mystagogia (the participant is called a Neophyte). Each phase is divided by a ritual step one goes from Inquirer to Catechumen via the Rite of Welcoming, from Catechumen to Elect via the Rite of Election, and from Elect to Neophyte via Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Eucharist. There are also some necessary rituals within each of these periods.
People who have been baptized in other traditions also participate in these processes, but I am still unclear on what their role is supposed to be, other than just to follow along, observe, and learn as much as they can from the sidelines. There were some recommendations for baptized persons during the period of Purification and Enlightenment, which I thought were reasonable I think it's a good beginning, anyway, and at least acknowledges their existence.
The period of Inquiry should last as long as necessary this is a time for the participant to freely ask questions. This period should be marked by a sense of hospitality and welcoming; it should be fairly casual. Meetings should take place at the Church in a space where participants can feel free to discuss any topic they want, within reason. This period ends in one of two ways: the participant chooses not to continue learning about the Catholic faith, or s/he is welcomed into the Catechumenate with the Rite of Acceptance. (This is only for those seeking Baptism.)
At this time, the participant begins to attend Mass and participates in the Dismissal, in addition to attending the regular weekly meeting of the Catechumens. The period of the Catechumenate should last long enough for complete catechesis to take place a period that, though it may vary from person to person, can be expected to take at least several months, assuming weekly meetings. This period is much more formal: structured classes based on teaching themes are expected. A valuable resource for determining themes is the Lectionary, but these classes should not be Bible study classes, nor should they have the same informal character as the Inquiry class. Rather, the themes of the weekly Lectionary reading should provide the basis for discussion and teaching of Catholic doctrine. It was pointed out that those not showing signs of conversion, or who are not sufficiently catechized, should remain in these type of classes, and that a third class should be made available for the Elect during the time of Lent.
The period of the Catechumenate ends with the Rite of Election, which takes place at the Cathedral, with the Bishop, on or around the First Sunday of Lent.
During Lent, therefore, there would ideally be three classes taking place: Inquiry Class, Catechumenate, and Enlightenment. Nor is this period intended as a catch-up time for those topics not covered during the Catechumenate. All topics should be completed, such that the Catechumens are confident that they know the stuff, by the First Sunday of Lent, so that the Enlightenment period can be characterized by internalization of the knowledge gained through a retreat model, emphasizing prayer and fasting.
Candidates (persons who have already been baptized) should use this period to examine their consciences and attend First Confession, as part of their fasting and prayer.
During this period, there are three Scrutinies. Baptized Candidates should not participate in the Scrutinies. As a sign of their non-participation, it was suggested that they be asked to sit elsewhere in the Church, and not with the Catechumens during this time, but to keep the Catechumens and Candidates separate from each other.
In addition there are two Presentations: the Creed, and the Our Father. Again, these are only for those who are seeking Baptism: Candidates (those who have already been baptized) do not participate in these.
Because the Candidates often feel left out during this period, it was suggested that a greater emphasis be given to their task of self-examination in preparation for First Confession. For persons who have previously been baptized, it is necessary that they confess all mortal sins committed since the time of their Baptism. Self-examination in preparation for such a comprehensive Confession can be a daunting task, in the case of persons who were baptized many years ago. This self-examination could be included as part of a meditation during the Enlightenment process, and would also be of great benefit to those who are preparing for Baptism, since although they do not have to attend Confession, they do need to be sorry for all of their sins. They, too, need to develop the skills of self-examination, since at some point after their Baptism, they will be participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. (I have a children's Examen that we use with the students at St. Pius X during Lent, that could be adapted for this purpose.)
Candidates can also be reminded (perhaps in another meditation to take place during one of the Enlightenment sessions) to reflect on their own particular Baptism, and perhaps means could be provided for them to share personal reflections of their baptism in the group.
Mystagogia should not be tacked on as an afterthought, but should be a scheduled class. The purpose of these classes is to celebrate entry into the Catholic Church, and internalize the meaning of the events that have taken place. Participants should continue to be encouraged to attend Mass together during this period, which ends at Pentecost. By Pentecost, the participants should feel comfortable and familiar with the Mass, have attended Confession at least once, have begun to establish home rituals, and have become aware of the ministries of the Church that they can get involved with.
Sponsors are supposed to be attending all of the classes with the participants. It was suggested that the rehearsal before the Easter Vigil should not include the participants themselves but only the sponsors the role of the sponsor is then to guide the participant in what to do in the actual Easter Vigil.
Sponsors should also keep in contact with the participants for at least several months following Confirmation, to ensure that they continue to attend Mass every Sunday, to go to Confession regularly, and to help them with any difficulties they encounter.
Dismissal is also considered essential for those participating in the Catechumenate and in the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. Dismissal should occur every Sunday during the period between the Rite of Acceptance and Baptism. It should be emphasized that members of the group are expected to attend Mass during this time, and to appear at the Dismissal. A review and examination of the readings of the Lectionary for that Sunday is recommended as the activity for this group at this time. The Catechumens and the Elect attend Dismissal: Inquirers do not. Dismissal ends on Palm Sunday, and does not resume again until the next Rite of Welcoming (usually in the autumn, in the case of a 9-month RCIA process, and at regular intervals throughout the year, in the year-round model).
One problem that arises with Dismissal is that the leaders, because they have to go out with the group in order to lead them, don't fulfill their Mass obligation. Because of this, they are required to attend Mass again (if possible) on the same Sunday, so that they can participate in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This could become tedious for the leader, if one person is required to do this every Sunday for several months. Therefore, it was suggested that a number of leaders be made available for Dismissal, and that they alternate turns so that this only happens to particular individuals once every several weeks, instead of every single week.
At Sacred Heart, we have an excellent Catechumenate, in that the instruction given is faithful to the teachings of the Church, and it is quite thorough. It may well be one of the best in North America, based on what I hear from others on the Internet and elsewhere.
Some improvements need to be made in the area of sponsors. Currently, many of the sponsors do not attend classes, and sometimes, the first time we ever see them is at the Easter Vigil. Sponsors are supposed to be walking the journey with the participants, and they should be present and available throughout the entire process, as far as is possible. Ideally, sponsors should be regular attenders at our parish, so that it is easy for them to take the participant to Mass regularly, show up for classes and special events, and spend time with them one on one.
The Period of Purification and Enlightenment probably needs one or two adjustments, but the program as it stands right now is, I think, pretty good. Greater emphasis on a retreat model is perhaps indicated, and I think also more stuff for Candidates to do, especially around preparation for First Confession and around remembering their Baptism, would be desirable.
The places where we need the most improvement are in the Dismissal portion of the Catechumenate, in Inquiry, and in Mystagogia, and indeed we have already recognized this, and are already working in these areas.
I think that if we are able to keep in mind the goals for each of these processes, and review them periodically, we will be able to make some gains this year. If we proceed like this over the next two years, we will have a perfect RCIA program in place, at least in terms of having everything necessary available to those whom the Holy Spirit is drawing into the Church through our parish.
Several people contributed to my successful participation in this Conference: first of all, Karen for suggesting the idea, the staff in the office for their timely attention to the registration and payment of fees, and finally to Flora, for coming with me and helping me find my way around. She is an able navigator with a map. The staff at the Conference was also very friendly and helpful. (The food was terrible, though.) Next year's conference will take place in Saskatoon the first weekend in June. The theme will be RCIA and the Use of Scripture.
June 10, 2003